07 August 2008

Campaign ads

This story has it all.

So last week the McCain campaign ran this ad:

“Sure, Obama is a really popular candidate, but that doesn't mean he has any leadership ability.” That's not exactly stinging criticism. Isn't popularity kind of helpful in leading people? It's not the most important thing you want in the President, but it's certainly not a failing.

More peculiar: what are Britney Spears and Paris Hilton doing in there? Uh ... let me try. Ms Hilton and Ms Spears are bonehead celebrities, Senator Obama is “the biggest celebrity in the world,” therefore he is even dumber than Paris Hilton? (All men are Socrates!)

Or is it something else?

Like a lot of lefty bloggers, I hear an echo of the notorious ad that was used in a successful challenge against Congressman Harold Ford, another Black and charismatic Democrat.

As Joshua Micah Marshall observed of this ad originally, the blonde bimbo element is meaningful in its incongruity.

If you watch the ad closely it is clear that the racist appeal — about Harold Ford having sex with white women — is the centerpiece, the entire point of the ad.
The ad has a number of faux man on the street interviews .... each addressed to a question of public policy.

But then you see that one ‘man on the street interview’ isn't quite like the rest. It's almost like those old Sesame Street segments, one of these things is not like the other.

It's the one spot with the platimum blonde with no visible clothes on, vamping “I met Harold at the Playboy Party.”

What policy issue is she talking about? It's not connected to anything. It's just, ‘I'm a loose white woman. I hooked up with Harold at the Playboy mansion. And I can't wait for him to do me again.’

Once you watch the ad again after realizing that, it sticks out like a sore thumb. What becomes clear is that the funny man on the street interview clips are padding, filler meant to make the ‘Harold does white chicks’ blurb appear to fit into a larger whole ...

In the Ford ad, even if you don't buy the psychosexual stuff the way Mr Marshall and I do, the “he's just not right” tagline is pretty much the textbook example of dog whistle racism in American politics — recognizable, but subtle enough that even its targets can rationalize to themselves that it isn't appealing to their bigotry.

Is the Celebrity Obama ad trying something similar? It's certainly not as crafty as the Ford ad. But I note that Terry Nelson, the architect of that Ford ad, was campaign manager for McCain for the first six months of 2007. It's not hard to imagine that Nelson was brought in for his ability to blow that dog whistle well ... and after his departure the remaining folks in the campaign made a clumsy attempt to play the same game.

But why get into all this serious analysis when you can do goofy satire instead? It seems that Paris Hilton was displeased with having her image used by the McCain campaign. So she made a witty campaign ad of her own, with the aid of the nice folks at FunnyOrDie.com:

I don't know which embarrasses me more: that I actually find the odious Ms Hilton a bit charming in this ad, or that she manages to sound more credible on energy policy than the Republican candidate for President of the United States.

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